I was a kindergarten dropout. Seriously. It happened early in my kindergarten career. It was winter and I was walking to kindergarten, which at the time, was held in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. Suddenly two sixth-grade bullies accosted me. They robbed me of the toy squirrel I was taking for “Show and Tell” and then, just for fun, they took my coat. It didn’t occur to me to go home. In spite of the bitter cold, I continued to make my way to school. (This, of course, means I can tell my children about walking six blocks to school in the middle of winter without even a coat, with a certain degree of honesty.) By the time I reached the church basement, I was blue with cold.
The net result of my misadventure was that I became very ill, and by the time I recovered, my mother decided it wasn’t worth sending me back. I, the five-year old dropout would stand in my front yard, watching the neighborhood kids go to school, just WAITING for the day I could join them. Time moved very slowly, but eventually, that day arrived. I was totally unprepared. You mean I have to SIT at this tiny little desk ALL day? You mean I CAN’T talk to who ever I want whenever I want? I was sent out to stand in the hall on my very first day.
But I loved school. I loved to learn – at least until jr. high when somehow learning stopped being fun.
When we moved to our new neighborhood, we didn’t register our daughter for kindergarten, even though she was old enough and even anxious to attend. Our official excuse was that we didn’t know if we’d be staying, but if I were to be completely honest with myself, I simply wasn’t ready to let go. There was also some question as to whether the school was going to be closed down. Maybe there wouldn’t even be a school here. Then what would we do?
We had toyed with the idea of home schooling from the moment our daughter was born, but neither of us had the time necessary to devote to teaching our child. Our biggest concern was that our daughter was too bright, and would quickly become bored with school. (I’m sure all parents feel the same way, but my kid is EXTREMELY bright – a prodigy, really. Just wait. You’ll see.) Yet, even with home schooling support groups and the Internet, I wanted my daughter to develop the social skills she would only acquire by being with other children. I was thrilled to learn the school would remain open, and I wasn’t the only one. People I barely knew were coming up to me at work and congratulating me on the decision, as though I had something to do with it.
I had no more excuses. We loved the community and were planning to stay. The school would remain open. Still I procrastinated. Really, the child is only six. Isn’t that a bit young? Couldn’t we wait until she was, say, eight?
It was the Friday before the long weekend when I finally climbed the stairs to the building that would alter our comfortable existence forever. Everything was about to change. And even though it was Friday, and the first day of school was Tuesday, I JUST WASN’T READY!
I pushed open the door, feeling my skin tingle all over. I stepped inside, and in my mind I could hear the sound of a hundred or more new sneakers squeaking in the wide hall. I could smell pink erasers and pencil shavings. I was taken back to every first day of school in my life. Who would be my teacher? Were there any new kids? Who would be my best friend now that Stacy had moved away? Would any of the boys like me?
Suddenly, I missed those days with an almost painful longing. I remembered the thrill of laying out my new clothes and gathering my school supplies in preparation. I remember lying awake the night before, too excited to sleep, and the way even the air seemed to smell different in the morning. I remember the sweetness of brown sugar melting onto the porridge my mother would make me eat before school on cold winter mornings. I remembered the friends I had made and the lessons I had learned and I was glad – glad that my daughter would get to experience all those things. (Well, maybe not the porridge. I hated the porridge.)
The staff showed me around the school. I was delighted to learn that my daughter would be given work according to her (superior) abilities, and that she wouldn’t be stuffed into a tiny desk to small for her long (and very athletic) legs.
I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I couldn’t wait to tell my daughter all of the wonderful things I had learned about her new school. But as I was leaving the building, I stopped. There, on the walls, were pictures of classes from years gone by.
Where are they now? I wondered. What have they become? Are there doctors and teachers, writers and artists who got their start here in this very building?
Someday, perhaps years from now, someone will stop and look at a picture of my daughter and her classmates on the wall of the school.
“Wow,” they’ll think, “I didn’t know she went to school here. She’s FAMOUS!”
Article first appeared in “Ramsay News” – October 2003